Where Urges Come From (Part 1)

We’re going straight to the heart of the matter, so today, we are talking about URGES. Specifically, the ones we feel when we’re around food.  In fact, just so we’re 1,000% clear, those are the only urges I will ever, probably, ever talk about. FOOD urges. 

Just so we’re clear. 😉 


Make sure you’ve got a pen and paper or your phone to take notes so that you can apply what you learn right away.  


Urges are the thing that everyone has (ok, this article is likely the one time I’ll be talking about urges without connecting them to food).  Not just anyone with a physique or weight loss goal like you, but anyone who wants to change something in their life.  Like the urge to procrastinate, or the urge to not speak up, for example. But with food, it can feel almost impossible to overcome an urge or many urges.  


People ask me why their urges are so strong, how to get rid of them, they want to know “What to do about my urges?” 


What they really want is an answer that will tell them how to not feel them.  Urges can feel so uncomfortable that any relief from them is welcomed.


Today is so important for you because I’m going to help you begin to understand urges in a completely different way.  Now, I’m not going to talk about physical hunger just yet.  Many people often confuse their urges for physical hunger, and that’s something I’m going to talk about how to distinguish in a separate article.  I’ll talk about physical hunger later and how to distinguish it from urges, which is such valuable wisdom for you and your body.  Today, I’m talking about urges to eat when you’re not hungry, even when you’re sometimes already full.   



The Bat Signal 

I want you to imagine this scenario.  An urge is a signal like the bat signal that Batman sees in the night sky when he’s called upon for help.  The urge signals you to DO something.  


The thing is, for us, when we get that signal, we think we have to get rid of it or that it would be best if we didn’t feel it at all.  


It’s taking up so much of our attention when we resist it that it’s all we see.  It’s as if Batman arrives at the roof top and just stands directly in front of the searchlight and freezes.  It’s all he sees, and it takes up so much of his attention and it’s nearly blinding him that he looks for ways to push the light away. He’s exhausting himself by trying to turn the light the other way, or even breaking the glass so the glare isn’t so strong.  He’s doing all these things to make the light less intense when all he really has to do is turn his head away or take a step to the side.  



So what exactly is an urge?  

An urge is intense desire.  Let’s take it a step even further back… what is desire?  


Desire is an emotion in your body.  


That is literally all it is.  It’s an emotion just like any other emotion you experience throughout your day.  Like anger that heats up your face in traffic, or annoyance where you roll your eyes when the internet is slow at work for the third time that morning, or relaxation when you sink down into your couch after getting home from work in the evening.  


I read once that we have a list of over 3,000 emotions that we can ascribe a vocabulary to but, on average, we only experience the same 12 emotions every week.  Isn’t that interesting?  And urges, which are intense desires, are one of the emotions we experience all the time.  


Desire is an emotional state.  


Just like when you’re grieving after hearing bad news, you’re in a sad state where you might be crying, head is hanging low, lips and cheeks feel limp. Desire also has its own emotional state and how you experience it in your body. You are experiencing desire when you want something, or have a craving for something, or have a longing or yearning or a fancy for something.  You can tell just by the way I’m describing the emotion of desire that there are different intensities of desire because not all desire feels the same.  


Some desire feels kind of calm, like when you want to pet your puppy and scratch his belly; it feels good to you knowing that you’re the source of your puppy’s joy in that moment.  


Other desire feels more sensual, like when you want your spouse to kiss you or you want to kiss him or her, or beyond.  


Some desire feels really intense and almost explosive, like when you’re waiting outside the doors of Walmart on Black Friday and you’re eager to get inside to make sure you grab those items you stood in line for hours for.  


So, what is it that decides the level of desire in your body?  Why are some desires more intense than others, and can they be adjusted?  


The answer is yes, they absolutely can be adjusted.  That’s what we’ll get to, especially around food, but before we do that, you must understand that the more intense your desire is for something, it’s because the reward you give your brain is usually just as intense.  


If it’s not immediately intense, then its intensity grows over time through reinforcement. The intensity of the reward your brain gets when you give yourself the thing you want is part of what creates the intensity of the urge.


And you can desire ANYTHING.  Like… ANYTHING.  


You desire things all day without even realizing it. You desire to get out of bed every morning (typically for the reward of breakfast) or you desire to take a selfie (typically when the lighting is good), you know?  


Even though food is food, you have different desires for different foods.  Think about the different intensities in your desire between eating a steak salad for lunch vs. two hot slices of pizza for lunch.  Do you feel the difference between which meal would have felt better? It may have even felt like an adrenaline rush thinking about eating pizza for lunch in the middle of week vs. your pre-made steak salad, especially if you’re really hungry. 🍕 


The reason one meal feels more rewarding than the other is because the reward your brain gets is different.  This is where the neurotransmitter “dopamine” comes into play and why it’s really important for you to know this when understanding your urges and why some are more intense than others and when they are more intense.



Urge Facts

If you’re like me, then you need to know or are at least curious about the science, the facts, behind why we do some of the things we do. 


I like feeling certain about things, and I thank my time in the Navy as an Intelligence Officer because we were told that our job, which was to hunt the bad guy’s location for our own operators to find, was to NOT gather a lot of generic data… that it was best to get accurate data, even if it just a little bit.  


Accuracy was lethal.  


Accuracy completes the mission fastest. So, accuracy is what I was bred to do, that’s why I teach how to undo urges because solving for them is the accurate solution to permanent weight loss, in my opinion.  


So, I’m going to briefly explain the science behind dopamine because I also believe that you don’t know what you don’t know, and when you do know a little more, the rest becomes easier to comprehend.


Most of us are familiar with the chemical messenger in our brain called dopamine, which is also known as a neurotransmitter because it transmits information between neurons in our brain and, consequently, throughout our body.  


The signals, or the information, that dopamine transmits falls within the realm of movement, speech, and expectation.  Dopamine is known to spark the motivation necessary to work for a reward. And that reward can be anything, but if you’re here right now, then that reward has often been food, and it’s getting to be too much.  


When dopamine is released, it tells the brain that whatever it just experienced is worth getting more of. And that helps animals (including people) change their behaviors in ways that will help them attain more of the rewarding thing or experience.  The more dopamine that was released, the more important that “thing” is to your brain.  


So, let’s take off our scientist hat for a brief moment and tie it in with your urges around food.  You can probably begin to see that dopamine is responsible for all of the food you eat.  It’s not always the food that releases dopamine… 


…it’s the anticipation of getting the food that makes the pursuit of food so pleasurable and rewarding.  


If you think about it, the first bite of cheesecake is always glorious.  You can savor every ounce of that bite when it hits your taste buds.  The last bite, however, isn’t quite as exciting as the first bite.  Why is that?  The anticipation of the cheesecake is what led you to it, and when you got it, your brain said, “Ok, we did our job, she got the reward (the cheesecake) because it was necessary for her survival; whether she eats it all or not doesn’t require as much work from this point forward.”


What to do


This is what I want you to think about today with your next urge for a certain food or amount of food that you have typically overeaten: 


Was it the food itself… the shape, the texture, the density, the lightness, the sour or sweet or bold smell… OR the anticipation, or thought, of having it that brought on the urge? Or both?


Don’t skip this step because it’s so important to help you begin gaining back what you seek the most in the midst of an urge: CHOICE.


And when or if you notice it’s the thought, or anticipation, of having that food or an amount of food, start picking up on other facts around you. 


Like, what time of day is it that you noticed the urge gets most intense? Morning or afternoon or evening? 


Or, what people are around you when you notice the urge gets most intense? 


If it’s when you’re alone, what work were you doing or about to do?

These data points will help you immensely because you’ve likely overlooked them before, unknowingly. I’d be so curious to know how the first part of this topic, Where Urges Come From, was helpful to you. I’d love to have you join me in the Undoing Urges Facebook group, which is totally free and where you’ll get more support and encouragement than you would without it. Let me know how I can help you.